A Good Second for Gravel, Schatz Misses, plus more from Knoxville Finale – DTD Exclusive

By Mike Mallett

Some seconds are better than others. 

David Gravel’s second place finish on Saturday night in the 62nd Knoxville Nationals was much better than his second place finish a year ago in the same event at the Knoxville Raceway. 

The Watertown, Conn., driver charged from the 22nd starting spot to finish less than a second behind race-winner Kyle Larson. It was a drive for the ages.

He put his Tod Quiring-owned Big Game Motorsports No. 2 on the cushion and let ‘er eat. It worked as he charged through the field to be seventh at the midway break of the 50-lapper. From there, he fought and clawed his way to second.

“This is a good second,” said Gravel. “Last year was a frustrating second, but this year was definitely a good second—an acceptable second, that’s for sure. We had a fast car all week long. We’ve been fast all year and just had an unfortunate deal on our prelim night. We just never gave up, and luckily I was able to get in the show, and you know, if we’re in the show, we’re going to have a chance. I got a really good start, got a couple of rows, and from there, found the top and really zinged by a bunch of guys there.”

Although the win escaped him, there was no reason for Gravel and company to hang their heads. It was an impressive recovery after a disaster on their preliminary night put them behind for the rest of the week.

“You know, getting in dirty air and sliding up the racetrack and somebody sliding up into my left front—it’s just one of the things; sometimes you put yourself in a bad spot and pay the price for it,” said Gravel. “So, I definitely regret the entrance to turn three on lap one of my heat race, but it is what it is. I think we have a lot to look forward to this year. I’m battling for a championship, winning Huset’s, being on the podium at the King’s Royal, and being on the podium at this race. I feel like we’re hitting on all cylinders.”

Schatz Off His Game: Saturday night was a struggle for 11-time champion Donny Schatz. He just couldn’t get going. The car wasn’t where it needed to be to have a shot at tying Steve Kinser for most wins all time in the Nationals. He came up short to both winner Kyle Larson and second-place finisher Gravel. He was disappointed, but on this night he just got beat.

“Clearly, we wanted to win, but we weren’t good enough,” said the Fargo, N.D. driver. “From the word go, we got behind Kyle. Even at the start of the race, when we were on the bottom, he gapped us right away. I was pretty free. I just couldn’t get the right side of my race car back at that point, and it wasn’t gonna get any better. I just kept going as hard as I could. We had one of them yellows and Kyle went to the bottom. I went to the top, got a decent run, and I thought, well, maybe here we go. Once he got to the top, we couldn’t even see him. We kind of hung the rest of the time.”

He had a couple of intense battles with Logan Schuchart, then Gravel, and even Carson Macedo. Some things went his way, and he ended up finishing third.

“I felt like I was in a cage match with myself to try to go and stay up, but we’re pretty fortunate to run third,” said Schatz. “We just could not get stuck from that halfway point on, and we had to fight with some pretty good cars to just stay third. Clearly, we had to have some luck. Some guys fell out for us to stay on the podium. So you can’t hang your head on it. It is what it is. This is the Knoxville Nationals. You’re not going to win it every time. Obviously, we tried our best, and it wasn’t good enough.”

Not His Time: You have to feel for Rico Abreu. Abreu came into the week as the odds-on favorite to win the Nationals. He’s been the best sprint car driver in the country, and he had a guy turning the wrenches in Ricky Warner who knows how to win the Nationals. On Saturday, it wasn’t his time. Abreu got a flat tire while running third on lap 16. He restarted 20th and finished 11th. It was a disappointing night for the St. Helena, Calif., driver.

Up in Smoke: At one point, it looked like Logan Schuchart was going to go from the Million Dollar Man to the Knoxville Nationals champion. Schuchart got around Schatz on lap 26 and ran second behind Larson. That all went by the wayside on lap 40 when there was a small puff of smoke and a few pops. That was that. It was over for the Hanover, Pa., driver.